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1. Einstein's Relativity Theory 
by R. Laemmel, Ph. D. 

2. Natural History of the Child 
by H. Dekker, M. D. 

3. The Descent of Man 

by W. Boelsche 

4. The Creation of the World 
by M. W. Meyer, Ph. D. 

5. Why We Die 

by A. Lipschutz, M. D. 

6. Love Life of Plants 

by R. H. Franck 

7. Plants as Inventors 
by R. H. Franck 

8. War and Peace in the Ant World 

by Prof. Sajo 

9. The Cell 

by J. Kahn, M. D. 

10. The Culture of the Barbarians 
by Prof. K. Weule, Ph. D. 








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An honest fellow, who lias something to tell, will tell it 
simply and without digressions. So Schopenhauer declared 
when he was enraged by the obscurities of Hegel's philosophy. 
I was always convinced of the truth of this sentence; there- 
fore I intend to tell in the simplest way how I discovered that 
nature is the greatest inventor and how by that means I be- 
came an inventor myself. 

One morning I entered my laboratory, thoughtful and ill- 
humoured, for I had been halted in my studies once more 
and could not go on. At that time I was studying the life of 
arable ground. Long ago it had been discovered that the dead 
black earth was not really dead but filled up with myriads 
of little beings which all have their own influence upon the 
abundance of the crop. And it was to be supposed that we 
could succeed in multiplying our crop if we could succeed 
in increasing those useful earth-creatures. The simplest way 
seemed to be to inoculate the soil with them, quite regularly 
a dozen of the little germs of life sown over each square inch. 
This was the problem of the day. This I could not solve 
and therefore I was ill-humoured and thoughtful. 

At first I tried different methods. 1 had already prepared 
earth which contained myriads of the small desired plants. 
1 mixed it with water and sowed it over my field. Then I 
investigated the results: All was unevenly distributed. 

I tried watering the soil regularly. Still no results! It be- 
came evident to me that the inoculating earth had to be 
spread in a half-dry state. That was the only way to success! 
So I lived to see in my own house the old tragedy of inven- 
tors for whom failure always is a teacher. None of them 
died in vain: he taught his successors what they must avoid. 
And to know that is really the most important thing in in- 



venting. Invention is always running by compulsion, so that 
it barricades by degrees one wrong way after the other until 
at last only the right road remains open. 

On that day, then, I decided that my right method was 
dry strewing: The method I had first thought of. For there 
is also a dark instinct for inventing which most inventors 
trust exclusively, with so frequent dark and sad a fate. 

Next morning 1 brought several tools with me, whatever 
I could pick up; a common salt-box such as stands upon every 
ordinary kitchen-table, a powder-sieve for physicians and little 
children, and a sprayer. Then I began to experiment. Upon 
sheets of white and black paper which were covered with 
numbered squares my material was lightly sifted out, and 
then I counted how many little grains were lying upon the 

I did not succed at all with the sprayer. Powder-sieve 
and salt-box distributed unevenly. The lower squares contained 
double and triple the quantity that the upper ones did; and, 
there was always less or more than I wished to have. 

Thus my ship lay becalmed, and remained so for days 
until I found the right way out. 

We used to believe that events of great importance in our 
life enter solemnly, announced by fore-runners, received 
with splendour and grandeur, perhaps like princes entering 
our life. Nothing falser than this opinion! The happiest 
like the most terrible event always comes with the indifferent 
face of every day; clad in the dress of insignificance what- 
ever may be hidden beneath it. 

So it was with that idea to which I owe so much. A 
chance idea brought me the question which seemed quite 
insignificant in the beginning: how does nature accomplish 
sowing? For the plants have to sow their seeds and, a little 
bit of thinking tells us at once, that they, too, must obtain the 
regular distribution for which I was striving. If a fungus 
is to provide descendants, it has no other way than to trust 
its young generation, the fungus-spores, to be sown by the 
wind, for there are only few fungus living in the water and 
still fewer for which insects or snails manage that service, 
In the same condition are the mosses. The wind blows their 
spores from the capsules and sows them. If they are not distri- 
buted evidely, two or still more will germinate side by side 



and then begin to struggle for life. Instantly I saw- that 
nature must have solved the problem. I only had to imitate 
it and my problem would be solved. 

But such a capsule of spores which I picked fromi a plant 
which grows everywhere in humid woods and which I now 
studied, is a very complicated mechanism. As long as it 
is young and green, a little cap covers it, with a little lid 
like a nightcap below it. Not before the capsule is ripe 
does the lid fall away and show complicated new arrangements. 
At the border of the capsule there are a great number of 
delicate little teeth, the tops of which are joined to a tender 
white skin which again shuts up the capsule. Now these 

111. 1. R Biotechnical Invention and its Model. 

The new shaker for household and medicinal purpose, 

Patent No. 723730 (2) and a ripe poppyhead (1). 

teeth are sensible to the humidity of the air. If the at- 
mosphere is humid, they remain closely pressed together and 
the sieve is closely shut. But if the air is dry they also dry 
out, stretch out straight forward, lift the lid and all the 
tooth-gaps appear on the sides. The capsule of spores moves 
on its elastic stem and throws out spores. 

This invention was too complicated for me. But as I 
now had found the method I only had to seek further in 
order to find a model fit for my purpose. AndV I found it in 
the capsules of the poppy. Everyone knows them. Everyone 
knows that the holes arranged in a circle under the lid serve 
for the dispersal of the little poppy-grains, but no one thought 
that here was a plant invention which excels man's. I know 
it because I have examined it. A poppy-capsule filled with 



grains of earth distributed much more evenly than I had been 
able to before. 

Astonished, puzzled, filled with an undefined joy I stood 
on the threshold of a new discovery. With determination, 1 
decided to make certain of my discovery. I drew a shaker 
for salt, for powder and for medicines according to the model 
of the poppy-capsule, and applied for a patent on it. 

The application was not denied, and my “invention” was 
given protection under Patent No. 723 730. 

Still other inventions of by far greater significance are 
under way. Some were refused by the patent-office, but not 
because they were not practicable, but because the same thing 
had been previously invented, which I could not know as I 
am not an inventor by profession. However I am not inter- 
ested in being called an inventor, for I am only a poor imitator 
of nature. The most important thing for me was the principle; 
and the patent office, which examines carefully and knows 
every technical thing, by acknowledging that here are real 
inventions, has acknowledged my law and the truth of my 
doctrine, and thus in a manner officially acknowledged the 
practical use of a philosophy before this philosophy had really 
entered life. * ' J 

So a new science is founded: the Biotechnic. This little 
book will deal with its fundamental thoughts. They are founded 
on a law of nature. And laws of nature are always true and 
consequently practical. 

What is the origin of this law? How did' I find it or, who 
revealed it to me? 

It was a gift of the woods, a practical result of a philo- 
sophy which begins with the simplest and with the most 
natural object: with the poor little, easily fatigued head of man, 
placed before the great, incomprehensible world. Contem- 
plate the world thoughtfully; as I am accustomed to, when 
I construct my philosophy: on the top of a mountain, lying 
alone in the great silence with only the harmonies of the 
spheres to listen to, and the solemnly resting heads of the 
rocks, and behind them eternity, to gaze at, not at all dark but 
glistening in the sun. Then, my mind is quickened with a thous- 
and good thoughts. Or in my firwoods, in a little valley, 
quiet too, warm, sunny, filled only with the sound of whist- 
ling pointed leaves and chirping crickets; where the trees, 



the blood-red gilly-f lowers, the bell-flowers, the whispering 
honey-grasses have something to tell me every day in the 
long hours of watching and thinking. A bud, which yester- 
day was not stirring, or a leaf withering awayi, a little ebbing 
life which is leaving us: these have their meanings to convey; 
anywhere, the bright procession of the clouds takes my thoughts 
with it, over and over again, far away, above all men, countries, 
wishes, cares, above instinct and petty ambition to the quiet 
ever-resting universe. The little sand-wasps, which fly 
here and there to their mysterious homes on the pale sand- 
hills, are my brothers, as are, also, the dark shadowy dragon- 
flies which sit down noiselessly beside me, and the confiding 
blue butterflies which are like a kind smile looking at the 
industrious writer and then tumbing away until they too 
disappear in the universe like myself. From this philosophy 
of sunny days I brought with me the pale last abstraction 
of the personality who says: I know nothing. Nothing is 
anticipated, nothing given; nothing is sure for me except 
that there is that universe, that immense plurality of my 

And upon this thought only, as on a corner-stone, logical 
thinking can be constructed. 

Is existence uniform? My mind asks. No, my experience 
proves it. It is a construction of different parts. With me, one 
became two. We may proceed with our thought. We can oppose 
the whole to its parts and we are sure that there must be a 
regular proportion between them. What proportion? This, that 
the whole influences the parts, each part the other, and they 
all together every part again. If, therefore, the part itself 
shall endure, it must have its own qualities, must be unlike 
the other parts and the universe. Or a bit more significantly 
and therefore more comprehensibly: each part must “be”, 
must have its own nature and qualities, must be an individual. 
Everything either can dissolve in the universe or “be”. But 
besides this quality of perseverance another quality inheres 
in things. 

The universal is a construction of different parts. That is 
expressed heavily; you would say more exactly and simply: It 
is a complex system. Parts of that complex system are removed 
and they are all endangered, for this threatens to destroy their 
original qualities. They disturb and influence each other, lose 



their position of rest and seek to get it back by their quality 
of perseverance. By that activity is set on foot. Beside individ- 
uality there stands change. Existence stipulates happening. 
According to a uniform law, for it is true for all things, exist- 
ence and change preside over our world. 

So at once all things have become squint-eyed, as when 
we look down on town and country from a very high mount- 
ain, many thousand men and their works, woods and meadows, 
nature and culture melt together into one picture. And seen 
from the height of our contemplation existence and happening, 
world and processess of the world melt into one, into the 
notion of the natural. From very high mountains we observe 
the strange phenomenon that the things of sharpest delineation, 

— the bank where we rested before climbing up, the great 
tree, which gave a shadowed seat, the hut of our night's 
lodging, seen from above, have disappeared, melted into the 
green or blue dusky table of a meadow or a wood, 
dissolved into the flat grey identity with which everything 
is enveloped for the human eye at a great distance. The same 
process occurs in thinking: notions melt into each other if 
they are looked upon from a great distance; they are changed 
into a grey incomprehensible void. So well-known is that 
to us, that we have given a name to this incomprehensible 
change: we call it abstraction. We have become accustomed 
perhaps the most admirable abstraction of the human mind 

— to give signs to these abstractions; marks, which we call 
numbers to calculate with. The hour of that admirable in- 
vention was called the birthday of mathematics. The whole 
world is contained in these numbers, when seen from the 
highest of all mountains of thought from which all things 
shrink together to pale, grey, natureless abstractions. The 
number is perhaps the most interior, the most secret skeleton 
of all things, and is common to them all. Charming and horrible 
at the same time is that power of mathematical thinking.' 
Fragrant, manifold and confusing the magic garden of life 
is spread around us — the mathematican enters and at once 
the peach-cheeks of the beautiful woman become pale, 
the flowers fade away, the mountains sink down, all flesh 
withers away in a terrible dance of death. The apparition 
of all senses flees like smoke and only the pale last skeleton 
of every thing remains: its numerable worth. And all happening: 



looks of love, hot kisses, silent mourning, dark deeds, proud 
effects evaporate into their nature: They are only functions 
of the number. In the place of the moment we lived to see 
stands there stiffly, ghostly, dead, but full of interior life, 
clear as crystal and apt to be neatly ruled: The mathematical 

Thus at the beginning of our world, stands, as a copy of 
godlike eternity, with the deep penetration of an eye in which 
a whole world is reflected, the equation: 1=1. It is the temple- 
mystery in the most interior cell of God's temple itself. And 
if you have once conceived what magical significance is hidden 
in mathematics, then, it is the most charming and most 
important of all occupations. Upon a sheet of paper with 
a pencil in your hand you rule over the world by its help. 
1 = 1 is the contents of a great book. 1=1 tells us that every- 
thing is identical with itself; that everything in order to 
be fulfilled has to return to itself. If you subtract something, 
if you add something, it cannot be one still, but now begin 
mathematical, countable and therefore lawful processes; out 
of existence grows happening which endures till one is one 

All must have its best form, its "optimum" which is also 
its nature at the same time. To repeat, because the thesis 
is so very important: There is for everything, be’ it a concrete 
thing or a thought, only one form which corresponds to the 
nature of that thing, and which being changed disturbs the 
state of rest and provokes activity. These processes work 
by force, that is lawfully by destruction of the old form until 
the optimal, essential form of rest is reached, in which’ form 
and nature are identical again. 

This return is made in the shortest way. We call it the 
way of the least expenditure of energy, and perceived its 
operation long ago in daily life in the much quoted' axiom: 
the shortest way is always the best. This least expenditure of 
energy is also expressed in the equation, 1=1. For the indentity 
is the shortest way to itself at the same time. The optimal 
form is also that of the least portion of energy, that of the 
intensest function. Like wedge-formed writing upon rock, 
the fundamental knowledge about form and function is en- 
graved in our brain for ever with these lapidarian sentences. 

What astonished us so much and was admired boundlessly 



two generations ago: the thought of selection, is recognized 
as a nearly self-evident law of the world, and most simple 
derivations are so clear that everyone is almost able to examine 
them in his own mind. Each form changes, none of them is 
enduring until it is Ihe optimal form which then always 
corresponds to the nature of things. 

Uninterruptedly, by a mechanical world-selection, new forms 
are selected and an imperfect thing cannot abide, but must 
develop until it is perfect in accordance with its nature. All 
changes however take place according to the law of the 
least expenditure of energy; a process which may be called 
the law of economy. 

It is the law of every function that it seeks by selection to 
become the shortest process. Translated into a quite simple 
example, a stone which has lost its position of rest seeks 
to find it again in the shortest way; and of many stones rolling 
down a mountain, that one will find its position of rest 
soonest which is falling perpendicularly. The process itself 
is natural for us because of its certainty and regularity.' We 
see it take place often and from this experience we abstract 
the notion of the law of gravitation, a general law of nature. 

The shortest way by which a process comes to its conclusion 
is its law of nature. Things arrive at their eternal position 
of rest, when they attain their optimal condition of rest, when 
they exert a minimum of opposition to that condition. 

1 concede without any objection that I am carrying these 
thoughts to a tedious, tiresome extreme. But the reader who 
followed my reasoning will concede that now the top is 
reached and that he is rewarded by a wider outlook. For now we 
understand what laws of nature are, and that to every process 
belong, by necessity, fundamental forms of change. If you 
descend from the regions of these last abstractions, in the 
cold atmosphere of which you have tarried so long, you 
can express the same thing much more intelligibly and much 
more simply in the thesis now completely motivated for us: 

Every event has its necessary technical form. The technical 

111. 2. The structure of protoplasm. 

1. Comb-structure from a swinging-thread-cell. 2. Comb-structure of a bacteria (b- 
lineola). 3. Kernel-structure of an infusorium. 4. Sketch of the structure of protoa 
plasmic elementary threads according to Fayod and Entz. 5. Thread-building in . 
dividing cell-kernel. 6. Protoplasm. Sphere-bubbles of a primitive animal (Colloxoum) 
7. Plasma spiral-threads (seed-thread of a snail, fieolis). 

Explanation in Foot-Note on page 12 



form always arises by processes as functional forms. They 
obey the law of the shortest process and are always attempts 
to find optimal solutions of the problem to be solved. Every 
process thus produces for itself its technical form; cooling 
requires cooling surfaces, pressure occurs only at points of 
pressure; pull only along lines of pull. Movement produces 
forms of movement, every energy its form of energy. 

Thus life has its form of life. Each of its functions has 
its corresponding form. And life as a unity working together 
has its own individuality. (Everyone who has only the slightest 
scientific education knows it). It is in its simplest form proto- 
plasm, or in its bodily form, the cell. 

Here, then, an excellent definition of the cell is offered to 
us: It is the bodily form of life. 

By that definition the adventurous and strange little grey 
being which we call a living cell filled with protoplasm 
becomes intelligible. All its pecularities are explained if we 
look upon it as one of the optimal forms of the functions of 
life. What can a living cell do, what must it do in order to 
maintain its life. It must be material, substantial, if it is to 
have any influence upon the things of the world. It must 
have matter therefore. The cell, before it adopts its special 
form, must have the faculty of being moulded into every form. 
Therefore the protoplasm is fluid and elastic, it is amoeboid. 
Its outer surface has the facility of unlimited movement, for 
it is formless and capable of taking every form. According to 
the type of movement, it adopts an optimal form for its 
functions: a form of feet in order to creep, a waving undul- 
ating border in order to propel itself through the water, and 
the whip in order to swim swiftly. 

In the protoplasm itself each of its actions has modelled 
corresponding parts according to the law of the least re- 
sistance for propagation, the cell-kernel; for secretion, bubbles 
filled with air and liquid and the secretion, compressed into 
the least space, the sphere like little grains. (See 111. 2.) 

Down to the lowest visible limits there is no atom which 
does not obey the law of its bodily form. And it must conform 
to it, whether it is a cell living for itself and no larger than 
a grain of dust, or whether it is only a part of a greater 
system which we can observe, and see every day as\ a plant 
or an animal. 



The cell has a form for every function. If it remains in 
complete rest, if all functions have been stopped in it for a 
while, it returns to the fundamental form, the globe. Ini the 
globe the inner and outer pressure are compensated equally 
and completely; with that a multitude of processes come to 
rest. The form of a globe realizes the idea of the least 
expenditure of energy. Therefore, a balance of interior tensions 
can be attained only when a ball shape has been' assumed. 
This is true for stars and star-systems, for the earth, and 

for every material to which human hands gave a form, as 
well as for the smallest egg or the smallest particle hidden 
in the most remote corner. This law extends to our culture, 
and to all fancies of the sovereign human spirit. Any, system, 
where everyone is to bear an equal burden, will take the form 
of a sphere. That is a law of necessity — the real god. 

Necessity prescribes certain forms for certain qualities. 
Therefore it is always possible — and this is the most important 
thesis of the doctrine of bodily forms, the elements of which 
we are studying here, — to infer the activity from the shape, 
the purpose from the form. In nature all forms are crystal- 
lized, processes and every delightful figure a creation of 


A system of tensions, changing in a hundred varieties, 
becomes a crystallized form. Hitherto, we glanced through 
the collection of minerals with an eye only for beauty, with 
the idea only of aesthetic enjoyment; now the silent world 
of the dodecahedrons and klinorhombes, the glittering ores 
and precious sparkling stones will tell us the history of 

the powers hidden in them. Where tension and pressure have 
to perform the same tasks, the same crystal-form grows up; 
be it deeply hidden in the interior part of an iron-girder, 

in a stiff dark porphyr rock a thousand yards under the 
sunny fields, or whether in the cell-form of a glistening 
green stem, or whether it is in a figure, great or little made 
by human hands. The wooden block, or the stone, or 
the piece of glass, lacks the qualities of a cube or a prism 
until we give it the form of a cube or a prism. By force we 
reproduce nature in order to give to our work the qualities 
of nature. 

I herefore everything which is designed for pulling must 
be ribbon-shaped. The muscular fibre; the leaf of the sea- 



grass Najas exposed to the currents; the fibrile, (scarcely a 
twenty-thousandth of an inch long) which is deeply embedded 
in the separating cell and which must draw apart the halves 
of the cell-kernel; the great muscles and strings in an animal's 
body or in the human body; the ship's rope; the traces of an 
equipage; and the driving belts of the transmission. In the 
great majority of pulling-functions the same form occurs 
inevitably. The cord, for it is the optimal technical form of 
draught. If we were living in the age of the Greek philosophers 
I would be most quickly understood if I said, that form is one 
of the demiurges which maintain and reproduce the world. 

To lean one must have a staff. The old man leans upon 
his; the roof of a temple upon the row of columns, which are 
also thick staffs. Trunks, formed like pillars, are built also 
by the palm-tree in order to support its fan crown; by the 
beech-tree to support the green burden of its leaves. Every 
corn-stalk builds a hollow staff to carry its ears; the bone of 
my own leg is a staff, the smallest unicellular creatures project 
staffs when supporting functions belong to their necessities of 
life. When wind and rain models a pyramid from the loam of 
the earth, with a rock crowning its summit, it also erects 
a natural-column. 

The shape of a screw is adopted by everything which has the 
function of boring and squeezing through. A tiny bacteriauses 
it to screw through its world — a drop of water; the 
terrible spirochaete penetrates, by means of its screw-shape, 
through all textures, through all the cells of the man suffering 
with syphilis. The light, screw form of the wings of the 
maple-seed serves to propel it through the air in the same 
manner as propellers do an airplane, or the immense wing- 
screw does an ocean-liner. The gimlet, by virtue of its form, 
bores into wood more readily than a nail; by virtue of its 
form, a screw holds more securely than a plug. 

We, ourselves, did not invent the screw, the gimlet, and 
the propellor; nor did the bacteria, the scourging infusoria, 
or the plants; nor yet the wind which moves mosf rapidly 
in spiral windings. The natural law — deeply embedded in the 
structure of the world — stands behind all these occurences: 
spiral movement occurs with less expenditure of energy than 
movement in a straight line. Therefore, the movement is accom- 
plished much more frequently, if the form is spiral than if 



it is not. If something is moving forward, the least inclin- 
ation towards the spiral makes its passage easier; and the 
resistance which it encounters models it mechanically. In other 
words, the type of movement, itself, produces the optimal 
organ for its accomplishment. 

The fundamental technical forms of the world are con- 
tained in the crystalline-form, the globe, the plane, the pole, 
the ribbon, the screw, and the cone. They suffice for every 
process of the world's occurrences: every process can find 
its optimal form in them. Everything that exists is a combin- 

111. 3. Skeleton of Coelestin (mineral-matter), which the Radiolaria uses 
to support the protoplasm of its single cell. (After Haeckel.) 

ation of these seven fundamental forms; but beyond this sym- 
bolical number of seven we have no other form. Nature has 
produced no further form; and the human-mind may devise 
whatever ingenious shapes it will, they all are combinations 
and variations of these seven fundamental ones. 

It seems incredible to us, and we industriously search our 
neighbourhood for forms to disprove it. Here stands a fine 
old house, a many gabled building of the latter Middle Ages. 
I place my scales upon it, and what do I find? It is a cube, 
with a prism resting on it as a roof. The walls of the roof 
are planes; in the volutes of the gable we find the spiral, or 
screw; the window-frames are built of poles; the entrance 
hall is supported by columns, i. e. by poles; a globe crowns 
the turret: from first to last there is nothing in this grand 
old building which cannot be derived from the seven funda- 
mental bodily forms. 

branch, Plants as Inventors 




A bunch of fresh field flowers stands on my work-table. 
Every week there is a different variety, this week: common 
John's wort, arvensis, blue-bell of the meadow, bird's-foot, 
and bull's-head. Together a glimpse at random into the life of 
nature. I make a thoughtful analysis of their forms. Petals 
and leaves are planes; the crown (corolla) of the blue-bell 
is composed of ball, cone, and planes. As in a Rococo ornament 
occu r conchoid and spiral-plane — both derived from the 
spiral; the stalks are poles. Though all forms are recoined 
in life with their own purpose, and are recast and complicated 
in the greatest measure, I could find only the seven funda- 
mental forms; and I had searched and figured for a quarter 
of an hour before giving up the attempt to discover a new form. 

I had pursued my search from the builder’s art to the 
loveliest products of nature, and had found nothing new. 
Perhaps a masterpiece of human creation may serve to teach 
me better. I stand before a steam-engine, a locomotive, and 
seek a refutation of my thesis. I know from the elementary 
doctrines of mechanics what I can expect. Wedges, taps, 
screws, rivets, axles, blocks, couplings, gearing, chains, pistons, 
piston-rods, cross-heads, stuffing-boxes, cranks, eccentrics, con- 
necting-roads, cylinders, tubes, valves — no machine construct- 
ed by human hands ever consisted of more (111. 4). 

I put my measure of the seven forms of nature on each 
element of an engine and solve all the shapes, of disks, of 
rods, of screws, of crystalline-forms, of cones, of spherical 
surfaces. The most unusual parts such as the eccentric 
wheel employed in our spinning-machines, are composed of 
screws and planes, which also appear in combination in nature. 

No technical form exists which cannot be traced to the 
forms of nature. Here, like everyone who comprehends this 
matter, I am astounded by what is uncovered before us. We 
have in this one law the explanation in one formula of 
life — all life, mechanics — all mechanics, industry, archi- 
tecture, all the ideas of the artists from the builders of the 
pyramids to the expressionists, the experimenters of the present. 
Eagerly we search on. But everything we touch becomes 
ashes in the flame of that idea: the forms of minerals — ore 
and stones, mountains and heavenly bodies, chemical combin- 
ations, geography, and even the human body and every arti- 
ficial structure, all dissolve into the seven elements of the world. 



There are only seven fundamental technical forms! They 
are the basis of architecture, of the parts of an engine, of 
crystallography and chemistry, geography and astronomy, of 
art, or industry — of the whole world. And the world teeming 
with life has produced no other possible forms. 

I advanced the weightiest argument for that contention 
when f showed that the form of the cell is nothing but the 

1. Wedge. 
10. Chain. 

111. 4. The elements of which all machines are composed. 

2, 3. Screws. 4. Rivet. 5. Tap. 6. Axle. 7. Block. 8. Coupling. 9. Qear 
11. Valve. 12. Piston. 13. Crosshead. 14. Connecting-rod. 15. Crank 
16. Eccentric. 17. Stuffing-box. (Drawing by Walter France.) 

bodily form of life. The form of the cell is infinitely manifold, 
for not only are there 60 cell-forms in animal and human 
texture and 16 in those of plants, but also about 6 000 
one-cell animal-algae, 4 000 plant algae, about 8 000 radiolariae, 
3 000 other unicellular animals; altogether about 25 000 cell- 
forms which differ from each other, although often only 
slightly nevertheless sufficiently to make it possible to describe 
them separately. In rich profuseness living matter has realized 



every possibility of formation and the artist's fancy seems 
a bungling imitator in comparison. 

This has been proved by an experiment. Several artists 
were asked to create as many variations of a decorative form 
as they could. They could draw only a few dozen, although 
in the world of unicellular bodies there are hundreds of 
different models. You may try the same experiment in order 

Technical Arrangements of Unicellular Organisms (Radiolariae) which combine 
solidity of protoplasmic structure with the faculty of swift swimming. 

to convince yourself. Try to draw variations of one of the 
fundamental forms on a sheet of paper. You can start with 
the ball, carrying it through all the egg-shapes, elliptic, shell, 
trellis-work ball, star, etc., and see how soon you will stop. 
Then you may pick up a volume on algaeology, — preferably 
plant algaeology, — and you will then become forever con- 
vinced that living matter as an inventor of forms cannot be 
matched by man. 

But what you can see in the world of cells recurs again 
in the structures which the cells build together. A long time 
before science had conceived the idea of the cell, about the 
time when the first clumsy attempts were made to gaze into 
the interior magnificence of life through poor' microscopes, 
the fantastic Swede, Swedberg, whom the world knows only 



by his name as a nobleman, Swedenborg, conceived the start- 
ling idea for his generation that the world is a great unity. 
He pictured it as an eternal flowing of the same things, a 
return of similar laws, only in different intensities; at one 
time concealed in small things, at another returning with a 
giant's steps to construct rocks and mountains, to write with 
starry script upon the heavens, or to assume spiritual shape 
and become feeling in man's brain and heart. 

111. 7. fln Artistic Form of Nature, really a masterpiece of stability 
and economic construction. 

The fanciful assessor of mines from Stockholm has long 
beeil forgotten, and nobody thinks that it is his idea which 
biology has adopted as the law of degrees of integration — 
which means that the forms and laws of unicellular life recur 
in higher stages in higher degrees of intensity. Physics also 
employs this idea, which is very helpful for it in explaining 
the theory of electrons by comparison with a solar-system. 
The movements and relations of the star-filled sky are con- 
ceived to recur in the invisible world of electrons. 

The technical formations, which in the uni-cellular life 
confuse and charm our senses, follow precisely the magic 



round of the same law in the masterpieces built by cells, 
leaves, fruit, animals and plants. The same inexhaustible richness 
and the same structural forms are again found in a higher 
degree of integration, — and always obeying the law of 
the seven fundamental forms and their combination, perforce, 
as instruments of the functional purpose. 

III. 8. Celestin Skeleton ol a Radiolario from Tropical Waters 
Compare ills. 5 and 6. 

Even inside the cell it is not different. The same law 
recurs within the perception of our eyes, which bring great 
and small into our mental conception; within the visibility 
of a microscope which does the same thing for the minute. 

Still, that smallest of small worlds, the intracellular world, 
is not fully opened to man's eye. It is only in the last thirty 
years that the microscope lias been perfected to the point 



of spying out the minute and secret structure of the cell: the 
cell-kernels, the grains of chlorophyll, and the tender scum 
of living stuff. 

It is as exciting as walking along forbidden paths to 
peep into a world where the thousandth part of a cubic 
millimeter (approximately one twenty-five thousandth of an 
inch) is a space which appears to be no less complicated and 
complete than his corpse is to the young medical student 
as he gazes at it timidly where it is resting on his anatomical 
table. (See 111. 2.) 

Within the cell we see another world of cells, the still 
smaller corner-stones of life, which we call combs and which 
form cells in the same manner as cells form organisms. On 
the edges of and within these combs there are still smaller 
granules, and then again threads, ribbons, spirals and small 
prisms. Such, for instance, are the muscle-fibres and nerve- 
cells and a whole star-system of most delicate threads which 
is developed in every cell when it divides. (111. 2, ex. 5). 

Again all these parts shape themselves in accordance with 
the law of the seven fundamental forms, and we recognize 
that the intracellular organism does not differ from that of 
the cell or other organisms. 

Similarly, in whatever degree of integration, the same 
mechanical system universally regulates the entire activity of 
life, and the theory which we hypothecated when we approached 
the consideration of the cell as a technical form of life, has 
now become a well-thought out and proved concept. 

The laws of the least resistance and economy 
of action force equal actions to lead to the 
same forms, and force all processes in the world 
to develop accordingto the law of the seven fun- 
damental forms. 

The analysis of the fundamental law of bodily formation 
is now finished, and one of the perhaps most consequential 
and practical inspections of our life-processes has become 
completely clear. The technique of nature (cells, plants, and 
animals, and man) are reduced to a universal fact founded 
on the structure of the world. 




If you walk through the world of plants using the know- 
ledge which you have just aquired, field and garden, meadow 
and wood and rain-drop turn at once into an open-air museum, 
a model collection of technical miracles, to be used as artists 
use art-museums to gather ideas from the collected riches 
of old. 

It would require a monumental work in many volumes to 
explain and make available the models and types of technical 
culture which our open-air museum contains. In the scope 
of this work I must limit myself to a few selected master- 
pieces. But inspection of selected portions of a museum is 
always more profitable than attempting to see everything 
and losing its lessons in fatigue. 

As an old guide of many years experience in the museum 
of the bio-technic, I shall show only six halls and 1 contract 
to convey the right idea of the bio-technical structure of plants. 
These are the hall of the flagellates, the hall of the plant algae, 
the great center hall of the plant-cell, and the small rooms 
of the leaf, the trunk, and the fruit. 

The entrance leads to the little world of the uni-cellular 
beings of the drop of water, to machines resembling those 
wonderful clocks made to fit into a pearl, but which are still 
more marvelous because they would not fill a grain of sand. 
But we know that the law of integration allows this miracle, 
and that small and large have significance only for man who 
measures them in comparison with himself but not for the 

Take a little bit of bottom-mud from the gold-brown bottom 
of any peacefully flowing stream, in an idyllic silent creek 
surrounded by water-roses and enmeshed in tangles of mouse- 
ear chickweed, with banks bedecked with the lovely blooms 
of herbs and umbels of rushes. Let some leaves and stalks 
rot in a small aquarium and you have enough material for a 

111. 9. Flagellate Forms as Examples of Perfect Swimming Organisms, 
t. Chilomonas paramoecium, one of the most freguent rapid swimming forms. 2. Strep- 
tomonas cordata, with a keel. 3. Rnisonema, with a towing whip. 4. Urceolus cos- 
tatus, a screw form. 5. Euglena tripteris a model propeller. 6. Syromonas ambulans, 
a propeller form which has been copied in ship-building. 7. Trypanosoma, with its 
spiral whip. 8. Spiral whip of 7, enlarged 9. Tropidoscyphus octocostatus, an un- 
known form of screw. 10. Heteronerna spirale, a model for the torpedo. 1 1. Monod, 
a modern propeller form. 12. Tetramitus costatus, a still unused model for a ship’s 
hull for speed-boats. 13. Monad, a new variation of the propeller. 

111. 9. Flagellate Forms (Explanation opposite). 



study of the flagellates, as much as you would need for a jwhole 
summer's examination under your microscope. What are flagel- 
lates? Unicellular organisms! Sometimes green or golden 
brown, and then they are harmless plants. Sometimes trans- 
parent, like glass, and then they are usually filled with other 
unicellular plants, for these are as voracious as wolves, and 
are the tigers of their world. 

Both the vegetable and the mineral flagellates must swim 
as long as they live. The vegetable can also seek the vivifying 
sun-light under the varying conditions of its life. Industrious 
and unswerving like a star in its heavenly course, they 
drive through the drop of water in which you may observe 
them, and rise or descend like golden dust if the sunlight 
shines on them. The others rush about rapidly. They arc 
swifter like all beasts of prey, and rush like an arrow on 
their victims, which very often they catch only after a clever 

Both, therefore, have solved the problem of the swimming 
form; indeed, the despoilers have become simply a “swimming- 
body." The law of the least resistance has given to their 
bodies the slender form of a ship to enable them to part the 
waters. They all swim submerged: the submarine boat has 
only repeated their form by force of the same law. Their 
end is frequently drawn out in a long keel (ill. 9, sec. 12); 
if they need it for further stability, a real keel may be annexed 
(ill. 9, sec. 2) so that our boats only embody a principle 
employed by protoplasm. In place of the keel we very often find 
a strange invention which airships and not ships of the sea 
have long used. We should have tried a boat made according 
to this plan approved by life’s models. Section 3 of illustration 
9 represents one of these small, common flagellates of marsh- 
water, to which science has given the high-sounding name 
of anisonema. It gives itself up to the specialty of swimming- 
forms, and has another invention in its body. On its under 
side as it swims, extends a long cord, which floats behind 
and is useful as a rudder as well as for increased stability. 
It is astonishing how steadily the little anisonema — it takes 
twenty-five of them to extend one inch — swims through the 
water. How quietly it swims and turns, how suddenly it can 
stop: it certainly controls the element it lives in. 

These furrows and incisions occur in surprisingly many 



flagellates, especially in the group of monads, which belong 
to the fleetest and most voracious carnivora of that world 
of minute organisms. They race through the drop of water like 
swallows through the air. Often they rush so rapidly through 
the observer's field of vision that only a glittering wake 
reveals their existence; and the novice, blinded and puzzled, 
but also charmed by so swift a ship, has difficulty in seeing 
it at all. Section 12 of illustration 9 pictures this bird of the 

Its frame is unknown to the human technique of ship- 
building. When I applied it to the design of a ship's hull 
below water, in a practical way without using Norman's 
formulae, the engineer whom I consulted for the calculations 
of the model declared his astonishment that a type of ship 
could be made with so much greater speed and economy 
of fuel-consumption by the use of this hull-shape. There is 
no doubt that ship-builders of the future will be forced to 
study the many strange, peculiarly shaped, skipper flagellates 
and infusoriae. (See ill. 9, sec. 1 and 7). They drift about before 
everyone's eyes, marine and aviation models whose usefulness 
has been tested by millions of years of life and practical 
application. For each function becomes more vigorous by 
natural selection, to which all living things are subjected. 
Every bodily form of a living creature is subjected to the 
struggle for existence, and is constantly under examination for 
its usefulness so that we might say that only the "optimal 
models'' are able to maintain and propagate themselves. In 
nature, also, there is a patent-office which admits only useful 
inventions, and excludes from practice all those which do not 
bear the imprint, probatum e s t (it is good ). 

You must realize that the swimming forms of the water 
calculate on a different motor from ours. Since antiquity we 
have had only one method: to screw ourselves through the 
water. We can do this as well by rowing, which forces water- 
columns on the side of the boat to whirl in a slow spiral* by 
which the hull of the boat is forced forward. It would be 
driven in a circle; to prevent this we row on both sides, or 
turn off the water-whirl by a keel, or more conveniently by 

*) Paddle-wheel steamers, which seem to be based on another principle, 
really produce a spiral whirl as the flow of water caused by the revolving 
paddles is thrust by the convex ship's hull to both sides in a spiral. 



a rudder. The screw of a ship is only an improvement of 
that principle, and when fixed, as usual, at the back-board 
of the steamer, gives a back push to the water. 

The hull of the flagellates is screwed forward by a very 
strange oar; the more delicate structure and purpose of which 
we have discovered only recently: its real significance coming 
to light only under the influence of the bio-technical law. 

This oar is called a \vhip, and we believed it to be a simple 
cord which is swung like a whip, (See ill. 9, sec. 3) a flagel- 
late body has anywhere from one to eight whips, which vary 
considerably but are generally attached to the front of the 
body. Some of these whips, as, for instance, the drag-whip 
of the anisonema pictured in section 3 of illustration 0, are 
certainly not useful for movement, but only for steering and 
balancing. They also havd a different structure from the organs 
of movement. They are not threads — I have often examined 
them, myself — but they are ribbon-shaped like oars (ill. 
9, secs 7 and 8). They are slightly twisted in a spiral and 
produce a screw-like whirl by their motion so that the body 
is driven forward by it. Frequently two, and occasionally four 
whips, (ill. 9, secs. 6 and 12) work together in splendid 
and incomparable unison. Besides there are very complex 
arrangements which we must be content to merely mention 
in this general review of the bio-technical science. There is 
still something to be learned from them which our nautical 
engineers may wake from their sleep and study from the 
point of view of the technical man. 

This much we can see: the solution of the problem of 
ship propulsion through the “screw-whip” of the flagellate 
is an ideal case of economical effectiveness. We have to employ 
engines of 40 000 to 70 000 horsepower and an immense 
capacity for consumption of coal to attain 23 sea-miles* an 
hour; a little monad attains not the speed of one and a 
fraction inches** per hour which I calculate is the propor- 
tionate speed according to its size in comparison with our 
swiftest steamers, but a many thousand times better effect. 
The monad, propelled by its whip-screw, can swim 20 mm 
a second ( 4 /, 5 of an inch); and many of these creatures whirl 

*) Approximately 27 ordinary (land) miles. 

**) The monad is V 100 mm long (less than 4 / ioooo of an inch); the 
steamer 200 m (656 ft.). 


only the upper part of their whip, thus utilizing only a small 
part of their bodily strength. 

This is the superiority of organic construction to that 
of human technique. 

Great rapidity of motion more than proportionately raises 
the resistance of the water. This is overcome, as we already 
know, by the screw form of the body, which cuts the water. 
It is simple necessity that all rapidly moving flagellates have 
inherited cutting spiral lines, often entirely screw-shape, as 
a glimpse at illustration 9, secs. 4 and 9 — 11, and illustration 
13 will make evident. This torsion is general among this 
group of rapid swimmers, and appears also among the most 
alert bacteria — vibriones and spir- 
elles. We can see from this how 
important this technical form is 
for the attainment of the most 
effective results in swimming. 

Human technique cannot afford 
to neglect the advantage of this 
form for torpedo and submarine 
boats. Man used the same prin- 
ciple in another application without 
realizing that it was following the 
best models available, since the be- 
ginning of life, in the drop of 
water. The gun muzzle is rifled to give the advantage of the 
spiral-flight to the bullet. 

The propeller, also, is nothing but an application of the 
same principle. Even if ship-builders have also adopted other 
models again and again; even if the American and English 
navies, each swears by its own model; the oldest ship-building 
firm in the world can point to its rich collecton of models 
among which there are a great many which, though tried 
by Nature, have not yet been tried by man. (C. ill. 9, sec. 6). 
Experiments would certainly show some of these to have 
advantages for special applications. 

The modern engineer, it is true, has only a superior smile 
for all these somewhat antiquated questions, since he has made 
an invention of quite another bearing in the turbine-steamer. 
But in the bio-technical museum of nature a particularly good 
collection of turbines and turbine-ships awaits the attention 



and imitation of man. Our home waters contain these models 
demanded by every-day needs; but if you want to see them 
in their greatest perfection you must seek them where the 
best swimming abilities are too. In the ocean, far from the' 
coast, millions of tiny plants, measuring at most a fraction of a 

111 11. Peridineae of the Sea as Natural Turbines. 

1. Goniodoma acuminatum. 2. Ornithocercus magnificus. 3. Dinophysis acuta. 4 . Gym- 
nodinium spirale. 5. Ornitho cercus splendidus. 6. Gymnodinium rhomboides. 

millimeter, rush about. To these glittering, gold-brown plants, 
tender as glass, botanists gave the family-name of p e r i d i n e a e. 

A glance at illustration 1 1 shows that they have strange, 
if pretty forms. Observation shows that they have an advent- 
urous sort of life. They drift about freely in the water; 
the further away from the coast they are the safer they 
are from the powdering breakers. 

They do not swim on the surface; there they would 



be exposed to destruction by the waves. Their kingdom is 
a few feet below the surface of the water, where it is quiet 
but where an honest plant can still find light enough to 
live by. In order to maintain themselves at this depth they 
have developed certain technical actvities of a very compli- 
cated sort. Their tiny body, a simple cell, cloaks itself in a 
coat of mail of pure cellulose; only a few of them (ill. 11 
sec. 4) are completely unprotected. In this cellulose they 
have a plastic building material of the very best quality for 
modelling. Out of it they build a leading apparatus which 
directs the currents of the surrounding water into special 
courses. Look at illustration 11, section 1 or 4. Without 
being an engineer you can see 
that side currents, averted by 
this formation into the spiral 
courses, will force the whole 
body to rotate like a mill-wheel. 

The little peridinea screws itself 
upwards by this resource, since 
it can easily be seen that this 
motion must be recurrent. It 
will not escape the technician 

that the leading lines become m . , 2 . Modem Turbine, 

narrower at their ends. Sections Compace the leadways for the water nith 
1, 4, and 2 of illustration 11 illustration n. 

show this most clearly. By this the instreaming water is retard- 
ed slightly in its course, producing a back-pressure, an econom- 
ical over-pressure which can be observed in the accelerated 
motion of the cell. Through this construction, it accomplishes 
more work than would be indicated by the motion per- 
forming it. 

It is not necessary that I analyse much more. Even the 
man who is only slightly acquainted with technical theory knows 
that the turbine is founded on the same principle. Water 
with over-pressure rushes through a spiral lead (guide-wheel) 
onto a revolving wheel, the rotation of which unties living 
energy. It is a question for engineers to determine which of 
the little peridineae correspond to the Henschel-Jonval-turbine, 
which to the Francis type; if the curve of the paddles is 
entirely rational; whether it corresponds to that of our turbine 
or is perhaps superior by virtue of the use of affecting 



planes. There are thirty-two species of peridineae with one 
hundred and sixty variations. Each of them adapts a different 
form for the application of the turbine principle. Man has 
scarcely a dozen types of turbine. It is clear tha,t much 
can be gained by the study of this organism for application 
to mechanical turbines. 

I should like to mention one fact in this place, to make 
clear the importance of the biotechnical for everyone, not 
alone for practical engineering. 

We have always supposed that it was the power of the waves 
which drove the little peridinea engine. Our turbines, also, 
are based on the power of flowing water. But reflect upon 
these facts: 

The peridinea cell is heavier than water. It would sink 
of its own weight to the bottom of the sea if the slightest 
motion of the water were not converted into a manifoldly 
swifter motion of the peridinea. The position in which our 
little plant is pictured in sections 2 and 5 of illustration 1 1 
is preserved when it sinks by balancing, keel, and rudder 
arrangements — especially noteworthy in the beautiful, so- 
called, “bird-tails" (ornithocercus). In this position the ascend- 
ing water-stream produced by the sinking is diverted spirally 
into the leading apparatus, in which a long channel joined 
to the cross-furrow works with it. (Section 6). Over-pressure 
is produced by the tapered-off outlet and, as you can easily 
calculate, works ast' a brake; even creates active power and the 
little apparatus not only stops sinking but even starts to rise 
until over-pressure is exhausted and the sinking starts again. 

In this manner the peridinea-cell rises and sinks in the water 
like a Cartesian diver, and hovers near the surface, as the 
needs of its life demand. Both of its whips (one of which 
lies in the cross-furrow) are used only to compensate for 
the disturbance of its balance by the waves or to change its 
position horizontally. In this little, mysterious object, no larger 
than a grain of sand, we behold an unknown, new 
construction, a protaplasm machine which has no counter- 
part in industry. 

If the technical world will now make use of tha biology 
of the peridineae in its lectures in schools it cannot omit 
the study of the silica-algae, as well; for they also have a 


device which would give the engineer many a moment of 
reflection. (See ill. 13). 

Silica algae — in heavy scientific language, diatomaceae, 
or still more heavily, bacillaricaea — lrave been seen by 
everybody. You can see them on the bottom of any brook in 
the late winter or early spring. Spread over the bottom for 
many yards you will see a soft velvety cloth growth. These 
are the silica algae. Or you need only look over the water of 

111. 13. Mechanical arrangements in Silica filgae 

1. Navicula dactylus, with shell strainers. 2. Side or “waist” view of navicula lata, 
showing box structure of shell. 3. Raphe course of navicula major. 4. Strainer ar- 
rangements of navicula gastrum. 5. Interior structure of tetracyclus lacustris. 6. Nitz- 
schia gracilis, a ship form of the silica algae, one hundred times as long as its breadth. 

(fill greatly enlarged.) 

the ocean from our coast. You will see so many of these that 
you could spend the rest of your life and still not count 
them. They give the green color to our sea in all cold 
climates. They are a golden yellow and change the natural 
deep blue of the water, according to the law of the mixture 
of colours to green. The silica alga is a unicellular organism; 
the largest is visible only as a grain of dust. Perhaps they 
are the masters of the earth, for they cover the surface of 
the sea and the land wherever it is fertile. Together, they 

Franck, Plants as Inventors 



form the greatest “life-mass” that protoplasm has produced 
on this planet. 

I have never shown silica-algae under a microscope to 
my pupils or friends without arousing startled glances and 
exclamations of rapture. The bio-technical promises great 
aesthetic enjoiment to future students. The technical student, 
also, must not overlook them for they are technical master- 
pieces of productive life. Unfortunately, up till now they 
have been observed only for their beauty, by the dilettante, 
instead of being carefully and systematically studied by the 

1 select a beloved form out of the great book of models 
which Nature has laid before us in the silica-algae. It contains 
6000 illustrations, and it would, therefore, take more than 
a generation to draw them correctly and calculate and trans- 
late them into living practical understanding. 

These plants, like the Chinese, carry their coffins with 
them through their life; they even live in them: Their coffin 
remains for millions of years after they are dead and returned 
to the mass of matter of the universe. It cannot decay because 
it is made of rock-crystal. It has, as well, unusual solidity. 

The bio-technician would be unworthy of his name if he 
did not draw the conclusion from this fact that solidity 
is one of the necessary qualities of the silicate armour of the 
diatomacea, and that it obtains it in the thriftiest way in 
accordance with the natural law of economy. 

If the shell must be firm, it must not, on the other hand, 

be heavy. For the silica-algae swim, or at least, they creep 

about freely and briskly. The silica-algae are thus presented 
with a two-faced problem and their ingenious solution of it 
entitles them to a special hall in the museum of Nature's tech- 
nical masterpieces. 

Expressed somewhat paradoxically, the first problem is: 
how to swim if one is forced to travel in one's coffin. The 
solution, stated in simple modern, human terms, is travel in a 
self-propelled skiff. 

Hie glass house is a submarine boat of special design. It 
is built like a box. (111. 13. sec. 2). It consists of a lower 
part and a cover. There is a channel running along both the 

under part and the lid, which ends in extremely strange spiral 

curves at both ends of the skiff. (111. 13, secs. 1 and 3). 



Learned men give that channel a Greek name, “Raphe". They 
scrutinized, described, and made drawings of thousands of 
raphes before a clever brain began to concern itself with its 
functions. When the silica-alga forces water through the screw- 
like end knots of the raphe it applies something of the principle 
of reaction conduits as well as the principle of the turbine, 
to propel itself forward. Indeed, the silica-algae swim rather 
swiftly, in fits and starts, testifying to the employment of 
an invention, the exact arrangements of which are new to tech- 
nical science, and which might, perhaps, be worth imitating. 

This invention often propels a glass ship of unusual pro- 
portions. There are silica-algae a millimeter long which are 
only two thousandths of a millimeter wide (111. 13, sec. 6). 
Therefore, this petty engine accomplishes the same work that 
our engines would if they were in a ship of 50 feet beam 
and 21/2 miles long. The construction of the reaction conduits 
of the silica-algae is better than those of our ships. I ihave 'made 
many observations of the speed of the swift little algae living 
in earth-clefts, and have calculated that they travel a yard 
in ten seconds. Taking into consideration the size and power 
of our best ships, this means approximately that the same 
efficiency world produce a speed of 120 miles in the same 
time, or 720 miles per hour. 

With these dry numbers and calculations, the bio-technical 
leads us again and again into' a fairy-book world of accomplish- 
ment. Perhaps they will spur us on to new mighty feats of en- 
gineering, for they prove beyond question how wide we are from 
the ultimate solution of our problems of mechanics compared 
to ‘the solution Nature has made; though we are on the right 
road. We travel this road (although we proceed only half-way) 
because there is only one road, and an invention is not 
practicable unless it proceeds according to the 
1 a w s 0 f n a t u r e. If we logically follow out the bio-technical, 
it will indeed show us what improvements can be made in our 
poor little world, our world of the laws of nature transformed 
into domesticated animals. 

In solving the problem of motion, however, the silica-algae 
have solved only one of the problems for which they require 
their house. It is made of rock-crystal substance for solidity; 
mobility demands light weight. The two requisites contradict 
each other. How are they acquired in spite of that? 



To understand that you must first know why the shell 
of the silica-algae must be firm. This quality certainly is not 
demanded by the conditions on a rivulet bottom or on the 
surface of the sea. Indeed you will be surprised, if you examine 
the diatomaceae of the ocean, how tender their coat of armour 
is. It is as thin as a breath of air, or a woven cob-web, and 
so transparent that you must make an effort to see the shells 
at all. 

Lor a long time 1 , 1 could not understand this condition, until 
one day it became clear to me that ocean and pond-bottom are 
not really the original home of the silica-algae. They live 
much more in the soil, in little water-clefts of loamy earth, 
in meadows, fields, and prairies. Their ship-like shape, their 
brown apparatus for utilizing light (which allows no bright 
light to enter), their agility (which, in the ocean, has no sense), 
and their coat of mail are accommodations to that life. 

For these water-clefts, which drain into the soil, exist only 
for a short time after rains. After a week's dry spell they 
close up, and would crush the little inhabitants if not for 
their resistant coat of mail. 

The circumstances of this sort of life demand unheard of 
resistance. It has so often been proved technically that in- 
sufficient bodies are so constantly destroyed, that those that 
persist must represent masterpieces of strength against pressure. 

Indeed if you will take the trouble to examine the silica- 
algae — hundreds of thousands exist in every thimble-full 
of arable earth* — you will see instantly that this is so. 
Their shells are firm and strong and have special stiffening 
supports, cross-beams, chamfers, supports and girders in order 
to increase their stiffness. In a word, they have all the in- 
ventions which man also employs in structures which must 
sustain great pressures. 

We have known these strengthening methods of the silica- 
armour for a long time; we have used the manifold forms to 
design thousands of structures. When their form was agreeable 
to the eye, we spoke of “artistic natural forms", and imagined 
an aesthetic instinct in the plasm which produced them. The 
silica-algae were recommended as models for the art-world, 

*) The water forms have emigrated from the continent to the sea, 
where they took other shapes, through rivulets and lakes. 



and artists directed their attention to them. The technical man, 
alone, who could have obtained most from their study, neglected 

From now on, for their own interest, they will study the 
silica-algae, especially the earth species, and will conceive that 
a scaffold construction made of such tender material which 
resists a pressure of many atmospheres must be adaptable to 
our use, also. Necessity made us unknowingly discover many 
laws made use of by them; for no other construction had equal 
resistance. Now we can select from the hundreds of building- 
types which exist among the silica-algae the optimal solution of 
pressure-resisting forms. In this form, of course, there must 
be the greatest economy of material, making for the cheapest 
construction, also. 

The silica-algae cells have attained this optimum, for they 
were forced to it by the necessity of securing lightness essential 
to agility. Therefore its shells develop into a skeleton for the 
necessary points of pressure with cross-beams between; and 
have omitted filling-in walls wherever possible. In this, it 
is the model of our steel sky-scrapers, as well as for all 
architects who must build weight sustaining structures. The 
architects of the Gothic period, for instance, with their pointed 
arches, and their perfection of the blending of planes into 
systems of columns and arches, construed the purest effects 
of necessity into the most artistic. The vegetable cell of the 
silica-algae has done the same thing in its construction. In 
this sense, one of the charming buildings of Venice, or the 
Maison du Roi of Brussels, or the Doges Palace or the Ca 
Doro at Venice, and the artistic and no less charming forms of 
one of the silica-algae, are equal manifestations of one and 
the same law. 

With this remark, the mind of the reader is prepared for 
consideration of the faculties of performance in the 
plant-cells, where they are not exposed singly to the 
struggle for existence, but have joined with others to effect 
certain functions as useful members of an organized whole. 

A single plant cell is only a building-stone in the society 
of many similar building-stones in a large many-celled plant. 
This sentence should be repeated a hundred times daily until 
it is worn out in thoughtless fluency. It contains the entire 
interpretation of bio-technical science. Like everything in this 



book which seems astonishing and startlingly new, the prin- 
ciples underlying it have been evident under the surface of 
knowledge for a long time and have been mentioned before in 
disconnected explanations, and sentences.* But the connection 
was always missed; and it is this connection which gives sense 
to it and encourages practical application. We were in the same 
position in regard to the bio-technical as the children playing 
in South Africa, who found glittering stones which were only 
playthings for them, until the first man came and recognized the 
stones as Kimberley diamonds. 

When we erect buildings from bricks and build machines 
from iron parts, we only follow the road laid out by the laws 
of the world, which order every complex system to be com- 
posed of its parts. The same path is followed by the seed 
of a plant which fabricates cell building-stones by division, 
and from them erects its building. 

The single cell is here a hollow brick, with walls, with 
a variety of technically estimable walls. 

Human buildings are mostly built of solid bricks of less 
valuable properties. It is only lately that we have learned the 
advantages of the hollow brick, and I do not doubt that the bio- 
technical will influence not only the engineer, but the architect 
as well, and turn their attention to hollow-brick construction, 
from which will develop a hitherto undreamt of boom in such 

Hollow bricks are light, warm in winter and cool in summer, 
and more economical than solid stones. Solid cells are em- 
ployed by plants only for special purposes to which they are 
particularly suited. 

It is true that we can bake hollow bricks only out of loam 
and quartz sands (somewhat similar to the silica cells). The 
plant, however, fabricates them out of cellulose, cork, wood, 
silicic acid (really glass) and sometimes even out of iron 
(in certain algae cells). It encloses them sometimes in a coat 
of wax, varnish, rubber, gelatine, or cement. That ensures for 
their building a selection of materials not possible for us. 
Cellulose, itself, is a building-material which exites our envy. 

*) This is true especially of Part I. Carrier constructions and other 
mechanical arrangements in stalks and tree-trunks, the wearing arrangements 
of the plancton-algae, the structure of bones and elbows, were all given 
individual attention, but never understood as a whole. 



What is cellulose? 

If we say that it is a carbohydrate which can be changed 
into starch and sugar, it sounds well but technically means 
very little. We say more if we state simply that cellulose 
is paper. 

Every wood-pulp mill, turming out mile-long rolls of 
newsprint paper, works up cellulose. We once had great hopes 
in the reported discovery of the secret of making linen and 
cloth from the cellulose product of pine wood. 

The plant builds paper-houses. They are iwarm, light, 

cheap, and attractive. When it stores wood-stuff in its cells 
to impregnate their walls, it utilizes a process which surpasses 
human power. It makes wood from cellulose, and we are 
unable to imitate it and make cellulose from coal and water 
in commercial quantities. We cannot procure wood, so essential 
to our industry and our culture, without despoiling and 

destroying plants. Man is in the same predicament when it 
comes to procuring starchy grain foods, upon which his 

nourishment depends. He gains his daily bread only as a 
servarE of the plant. In its service, he must till the soil by 
the sweat of his brow; he does not disdain the use of dung, 
in which he sees a precious fortune. For the good of the plant 
he has ordered his calling, his thinking, and his feeling. For 
it he implores the heavens for rain, and works hard and long 
at harvest-time. All, however, because he is a bungler in the 
chemical industry, and the plant a master. 

I will not repeat things so self-evident as the import- 

ance of wood in man’s cultural life. But I wish to take 
three facts from the great book of technical accomplishments 
by way of illustration, to throw light into the pitch-black 
darkness surrounding the plant as inventor. These are the 
elasticity of wood-fibre, its osmotic qualities, and the colloidal 
qualities of the protoplasm wall. 

The best steel-rod has a resistance of about one hundred 
and thirty pounds to the square millimeter* cross-section; 
iron has about one half; and the best copper, though a very 
tough substance, somewhat less. Similar tests for strength 
were made with fibres from the inside of living bark, with 
the following results: 

*) A millimeter is approximately V 25 of an inch. 



A fresh straw thread — the fibre from the inside of the 
rye outer-wall — has a resistance of thirty-five to fifty pounds, 
the fibre, of lily-stalks, fifty pounds, and New Zealand flax a 
trifle more. There is no commentary necessary except that 
drying-out increases their tensile strength. 

Wood has the quality of expanding through absorption of 
water. This is a quality which all vegetable matter has. This 
expansion makes available an enormous energy. It has been 
calculated that a cubic yard of expanding vegetable matter can 
lift more than twenty-five thousand tons. This is the explan- 
ation of why trees can split rocks into fragments with their 
growing roots, and dislodge houses. Since ancient times man 
has made use of this power. It is used in mining. Wooden 
pegs are driven into small chinks. It is then only a question 
of time until the absorption of water will cause them to swell 
and tear asunder the surrounding rock. Man can, with the help 
of the technical qualities of the plant, move mountains. 

Behind this “expansion" of the plant, lies another quality 
of the plant, which is the real reason for the immense tech- 
nical superiority of the plant's building-material. This is the 
colloidal quality of protoplasm and all its products. 

What does that high-sounding scientific phrase mean? Scien- 
tific explanations do not throw much light on it when they 
state that a colloid is a heavy, or uncrystallisable body, which 
dissolves very slowly. Therefore, we must try to demonstrate 
the remarkable qualities of colloids in an other way. 

Rubber is a colloid solution. The rubber solution which the 
motorist knows so well is not a liquid, not a gas, and not a 
solid body. We could quite well say that a colloid is the fourth 
state which matter can assume. We can change all metals into 
colloids; we can also change silicic acid and all albumins into 
this form. Probably, some day, we shall be able to do the same 
thing with all matter. Now it is very curious that we have 
found a cell or honey comb structure in all colloids. It is true 
that we cannot expect to find any special secret in that fact, 
for we already know that the cell is the technical form of a 
colloid, the protoplasm. The whole life of plants is a 
problem of colloids. 

Upon this knowledge a special branch of bio-technical 
science will be founded. The workers in it will seek to pry 
from the plant its priceless technical secret. Its discovery 



is possible for the plant uses it every hour, though we are 
still miles from its disclosure. This secret is the colloidal 

If you wish to get a visible picture of Hell, go down into 
the stoke-hold of on ocean steamer. Half-naked diabolic figures, 
black with soot, waving brandishing-irons and shovels, receive 
you. Flames light the dark hole of these kulis of the god of 
heat. Their prison is vaulted with immense, heavy iron plates, 
all alike covered with numer- 
ous drops of sweat, and all 
trembling under the enormous 
pressure on their walls. Fresh 
coal is shoveled into the boilers 
amid the wild songs of the 
demons. They rage and rave 
around the boiler; and loud 
clankings as of innumerable gi- 
gantic fists pounding on the boil- 
er-walls, arise, threatening to 
burst them open. But the ship's 
engineer is not romantic. He 
cooly explains, “Pressure of 
Steam” and reads the steam-, 
gauge, “Sixteen Atmospheres''. 1 
Ship-boilers are tested up to eighteen to twenty-five atmos- 
pheres, that means from 270 to 375 lbs. for each square inch. 
The thick black iron-plates, solidly held together by rivets, 
assure this strength. Generally, it is believed that the thick- 
ness of the boiler-walls must be one two-hundredth of the 
diameter of the boiler. 

If you look at living plant-cells under the microscope, 
you will be surprised to see how full they fill their reservoir. 
But the addition of only a very small quantity of sugar- 
solution is sufficient to cause the shrinking up of the highly 
sprung wall. The botanist calls that a debasement of the 
“osmotic pressure”, and in an ingenious way succeeded in 
measuring that pressure. He arrived at the astonishing result 
that, in every normal vegetable cell, it amounts to five to ten 
atmospheres, as much as in a small steam-boiler. 

The interesting thing for us in this, is the thinness of the 
skin which sustains this pressure, and of what substance it 

111. 14. The Largest Boiler in the World 
Front view of a ship’s boiler. 



is made. It is of plasmatic nature, that is of colloidal structure. 
From this simple chain of facts we can conclude that col- 
loidal membranes have an enormous strength 
which surpasses that of iron. 

That is why inner-bark fibres have such great tensile 
strength. They, also, are of colloidal structure. 

But we are not yet finished with our astounding revelations. 
The cell membrane of the turnip, one twenty-five thousandth 
of an inch thick, sustains a pressure of 21 atmospheres (315 
lbs. per square inch). The wall of this "boiler" is scarcely 
thicker than one five-hundredth of its diameter.* It holds this 
pressure without noise or rumblings, contrary to the ship's 
boilers. Man must use iron-plate an inch thick, where nature 
employs a thin membrane. That is the difference between 
man’s technical ability and that of plants. 

Here is a new problem for the engineer, a new dream for 
sleepless nights. How can colloidal boilers be constructed? 
The task is known; the solution is possible. Surely the human 
mind will not rest until the steam boilers are all scrapped. 

In the light of the thoughts awakened by the plant’s 
mechanical wonders, we clearly see new sign-posts pointing 
beyond our present-day achievements. We see that the oft 
repeated “mechanical age" lies ahead and not behind us. Man 
can gain control of the forces of nature in another sense from 
what has been meant until now. He can employ all the 
principles of living organisms, and he will have occupation 
for all his capital, power, and talents for hundreds of years 
to come. 

Every brush, every tree can teach him; can give him 
counsel, and give him pointers for numberless inventions, 
apparatus and technical equipment. A simple leaf contains 
the arrangements of a great industry, and it is most astonishing 
that man has been blind to its possibilities for such a long- 
time, and neither saw nor understood that he held its secret 
in his hands. To prove this statement, I will explain its 

The leaf contains a complicated ventilator, a drying-appara- 
tus, a multitude of light, inimitable power-engines, a cooling 

*) According to Pfeffer, the osmotic pressine in mycodertna can rise 
to approximately 160 atmosphere (a ton and a quarter pressine per 
square inch). 



apparatus, and a hydraulic press. It is therefore a factory 
containing an assortment of machinery. 

We shall consider first those which are quite unknown in 
human practice. 

Of all the raw materials which are at the disposition of 
living organisms including man, none are in such available 
abundance as air and water, or in more exact language, as 
the gases, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbonic acid. 
Man utilizes only one of them, and that only in the last few 
years. We use nitrogen now to make saltpetre; the others 
remain unused. 

The plant-cell employs all four, and therewith has tapped 
the cheapest raw-material reservoir of the world. But it would 
take a whole book to explain all its processes, and I must 
therefore confine myself to one, the capture of carbonic acid 
and its fabrication, by the addition of water, into sugar. 

For thousands of years men busied themselves with specul- 
ations on why the world was created. It is only in the last 
seventy years that they have systematically considered h o w 
the world is really arranged. Unfortunately this has not been 
long enough to learn completely the chemical physiology 
of the vegetable cell. Therefore, we have only superficial 
notions of its processes. 

We see that almost every plant-cell above ground contains 
green pigment, and can ascertain by simple experiments that 
these cells, constantly while they are exposed to sun-light, 
give off oxygen. They also store a stuff which consists of coal 
and water (carbonic hydrate), and which, in its liquid state, 
is called sugar, in its crystalloid form, starch. Closer obser- 
vation shows that they utilize carbonic acid taken from the 
air, and cannot work without water. 

That is an explanation |in simplest form of the most 
significant invention ever made on this earth. The whole life 
of plants, as well as that of animals and man, depends upon it. 
Without it, life would perish. It must, therefore, have been 
one of the first inventions after the arrival of life on this 

Human technique is a long way from being able to imitate 
this process, which is, in truth quite simple. We do not 
entirely understand it, yet, because we have not been able 
to learn the exact composition of the green pigment; for 



when we call it the green of the leaves, or in scientific language, 
Chlorophyll, we do not explain anything. It means very 
little more to know that it is an albumin combination. The 
haemoglobin of our blood is a substance very much like it, 
and also an albumin combination. Its chemical combination 
is known exactly: C 758 H 1203 N 195 Fe S 3 . 

This formula is hopelessly exact, for our chemists can 
not build such a complicated frame from its elements. Such 
refined synthetic chemistry is possible only for plants. 

Silent and a lovely bright green in the sunlight my small 
garden greets me. I am ashamed to tread the smallest leaf 
under foot, having the same feeling of vandalism when I do 
so that you would have if you walked rough -shod over the 
delicate mechanisms of costly watches. 

We have much reason to look thoughtfully at the yellow- 
green spring leaves, in which thousands of sun-power machines 
work steadily without rest, from morning to evening, to produce 
for the community the two important foods, sugar and flour.' 

I call them sun-power machines because their specialty 
is to utilize the energy of the sun's beams. What steam is for 
the locomotive, the sun's rays are for the green stuff of 
the leaves. Their productivity is ideal mechanical technique; 
it is the optimum, itself. An ideally simple apparatus, and the 
source of power, the sunlight, omnipresent; with these the 
little leaf-factory turns the cheapest raw material into a precious, 
irreplaceable product. Matter can not be changed in manufac- 
ture more completely than it is here, and you will agree with 
me that, the biotechnical is the top rung of 
mechanical technique. 

You can observe the simplicity of the apparatus, how well- 
ordered and humanly familiar it is, in many charming pictures. 
I advise you to search out a common water liver-wort 
(marchantia), which you will seldom fail to find in moist, 
shaded stone-walls or rocks. In its outer form you will see 
a tendency towards division into diamond shape sections, 
each of them corresponding to the room of a factory. If you 
force your way inside — best done by cutting thin cross-sections 
to be placed under a microscope — you will see that strange, 
but still again, familiar picture reproduced in illustration 15. 
There is an arch over the ground, and under it several apparat- 
uses are grouped side by side. The little sun-power engines 



usually consist of two or three cylinders in which the precious 
pigment is exposed to the light in small disk arrangements. The 
fluid products trickle through the walls of the apparatus and 
are drawn from the ground through little channels. The 
light streams in strong and bright through the vaulted, glass- 
like roof, which even has a large ventilating shaft for the 
carbonic acid and the water vapour to enter. Everywhere the 
same principles as in human machinery; everywhere the law 
of necessity brings similar forms, in nature and in human arts. 

The leaves of trees and bushes are generally designed in 
another style, though the same law governs both. The ventilator 
is made much more “artistically" with a system of shafts 
and window-sashes. The diversion of the raw and half-finished 

111. 15. Ä “Factory Interior” in the Plant World 
Longitudinal section of marchantia. 

products through a complex net of directing channels every- 
one has seen if he has seen the veins and stalks of a leaf. 
The plant unfolds as a real industrial village if it is carefully 
studied. There are a hundred gradations, ever new forms of 
accomplishing tasks, which are more perceptible to the mechanic 
than to the scholar. There are elevators, coolers, condensers, 
stuffing-boxes, filter and hydraulic presses, elcctroly tical ap- 
paratuses, and evacuating pumps. The more of an expert you 
are, the more technical forms you will find. I have been able 
to cite hundreds of technical plant inventions. There are 
whirligigs, Segner water-wheels, shears, clamps, hollow ball- 
bearings, automatic doors, springs, diaphragms, balance weights, 
reflectors, outriggers, couplings, gas-balloons, parachutes, and 
an endless variety of similar mechanical parts. I have only 
touched the surface. It is also quite clear that the animal and 



human bodies have produced a multitude of other inventions 
to meet other needs. Inanimate nature — the clouds, moun- 
tains, and electrical energy of the air realize still other technical 
developments. The knowledge of these forms will open the 
ga'tes to a new world of human achievement. 

There are, in this great multitude of strange applications 
of physico-chemical laws, a number which are unknown to 
mechanics; others which we can try although we have not as 
yet been able to analyse the principles on which they work. 
There are many inventions in plant-life which the botanist 
failed to recognize owing to his lack of technical knowledge. 
We can end our visit to the plant’s bio-technical museum 
with a survey of some of these strange phenomena. 

A phenomenon, unknown before discovered in a bio- 

technical study of plant-life, 
is the employment of hydraul- 
ic presses in leaves. Man 
employs the hydraulic press 
more and more frequently; it 
belongs to the seven great 
technical miracles of the age. 
Steam-forges, so long objects 
of wonder and admiration, 
have been replaced in ever 
increasing numbers for the 
last decade by the silent com- 
pound-press, which is an ap- 
plication of the hydraulic- 

An entirely new class of tool machines has been devel- 
oped in the last generation, fulfilling the traditions of the 
Titan. We turn a lever and cut through a sheet of zinc ten 
inches thick. Our forges fashion monster ship's screws like 
the one reproduced on page 29, and houses and bridges are 
picked up and carried to another locality. When we think 
of ocean liners we think of immense structures like the Levia- 
than, of office buildings of towering masses like the Wool- 
worth or Equitable buildings. In their construction, pieces 

lifted into place. 

111. 16. R Modern Compressor of more than 
seven thousand tons pressure. The same 
principle is used in plant leaves. 

thousands of tons in weight had to be 

This was all done by the judicious application of a funda- 
mental law of hydrostatics: the pressure upon water in a 



closed cylinder will be transmitted in every direction with 
equal force. We can, therefore, multiply the pressure to be 
applied by enlarging the cylinder wall. If we take two vessels, 
one with a iwall-surface a hundred times greater than the other, 
and join them by a narrow tube, we can exert a pressure in 
the little vessel which will transmit it multiplied many times 
to the larger. 

This is the theory of all hydraulic presses, of all hydraulic 

With this knowledge, you may now consider a leaf of a 
plant, 'that of the common garden fuchsia, or of the nastur- 
tium, or strawberry, or dew-mantle (A 1 c h i m i 1 1 a), or any 
that grow in a neighbouring meadow. If you take joy in 
nature and have only a little knowledge of botany, you know 
that all these leaves are a sort of weather-signal or prophet. 
If when you go into the garden on a hot morning you find 
dew-drops sparkling on the furrowed edges of the leaves, 
you can know that it will soon rain. Really, the water-drops 
exuded from the leaves show only that the air is already 
saturated with moisture and that the normal evaporation from 
the green parts of the plant cannot take place, whereupon the 
surplus is pressed out along these crevices. 

In the tropical woods, during the rainy season when the 
air is so humid that every cooler object is immediately covered 
with little drops of dew, this guttation (the scientific name 
for this phenomenon) occurs with increased vigour compared 
to that in our climate. Swamp plants drive out (or even 
throw out) twenty-five to eighty-five drops a minute from 
every one of their leaves. Sometimes tiny fountains bubble 
out from these little water crevasses. A colocasy has been 
observed, which one night drove the water out of the top of its 
leaf with so much force and rapidity that it rose about four 
inches above it. 

To make this possible the water must have pressure be- 
hind it, of course. Where does that pressure come from? 
It is impossible that it can be only the root-pressure, which 
causes, as everyone knows, trees to bleed in spring. This 
“fountain", however, requires a much greater force. The solution 
of the riddle depends upon the following facts: Under the 
water-crevasses there is a large empty space joined by a tiny 
channel to the plant's water-conduits, which draw the water 



from the soil. In this way the principle of the hydraulic 
press is applied. The slightest increase of pressure in the 
roots is multiplied in the open space in the same proportion 
as its size is greater than the pipes in the root. In other words, 
there is a pressure ten to one hundred times greater in the 
reservoir of the leaf, which forces the water to bubble or 
even spout out of the outlet. If this process had been shown to 
a physicist of former ages, he would have been able to 
recognize the principle involved, and the invention of the 
hydraulic press might have resulted thousands of years earlier. 

How important the consequences of this antecedence would 
have been! But then memories of early historical developments 
perplex us. Were not all our technical achievements known 
in antiquity? Were there not steam engines in Serapis in 
Alexandria? Did not Ktesibios construct a “water-machine"? 
Did not the Egyptians of the Ptolemaic Dynasty ride in self- 
propelled carriages? Were not fire-engines a common sight 
throughout the Roman Empire? Was not the Third Century 
A.D. a century of technical achievement? And yet all was 
submerged again in the course of centuries, and man had to 
recreate his inventions once more from their rudiments with 
the greatest of effort. 

Why this retrogression? How can things, once striven 
for and attained, be lost again by mankind? Is our culture 
really not enduring? 

The bio-technical gives the answer to this melancholy 
question. For it teaches us to think biologically, and shows 
us the root of every invention: necessity. Every- 
thing develops, if necessity demands it. In the entang- 
le m e n t of needs you will find the law showing 
the new form to unravel i t. Given the situation requir- 
ing the application of the hydrostatic law and the first drops 
of water bubbled out of the leaves. The plants were relieved 
by the process, and passed it on to their descendants. When 
Alexandria became desolate under the assaults of the Monks 
of Thebes, and when Rome perished in the migration of 

nations, the new masters of the world had no need of 

mechanics. What use could the hunter of elk find for the 
steam propelled hero's carriage? Culture had no place among 
his needs. We have here a parallel to the ship-building 

masters of the water-drop, which changed in the course of 



the history of their race into other forms no longer requiring 
the ability to swim, and who, therefore, laid aside the technical 
culture of their predecessors. 

Reality has no tradition; necessity takes its course through 
the world without sentimentality. Necessity turns the world's 
wheels; with a turn of its lordly wand it can make the dead 
rise up, or the living fall from the tree of life. 

It is not the plant which invents; nor yet we; 
but the law of the mechanical form is fulfilled 

We do not usually like to face such stark truth; but, if, 
after all, reason has gained the mastery over emotion, we can 
understand how the mechanical, the mere usefulness of 
existence, must also have triumphed. Called into being simul- 
taneously with “existence" it controls everything in the world, 
giving us our one steadfast star in the great sea of change. 

ff you have followed me so far into the study of the 
“technique of plants" you will yourself be able to answer 
the most current objection to the new bio-technical science. 
There are people, who, in spite of the great array of facts, 
say that man is not restricted to the inventions of nature, 
but is himself sovereign in his inventive and technical power. 
For he has a great number of technical achievements to his 
credit which could not possibly be copied from nature. Nature, 
for instance, does not know electric accumulators, nor the 
locomotive, nor automobiles, nor are-lamps, nor typewriters. 

This objection completely overlooks the fact that no 
organism anywhere needs to store electricity in large enough 
quantities to require accumulators. But when an organism 
needs electricity, as the electric-cell (gymnotus e 1 e c t r i - 
cus) does, then it employs the same doctrines of electricity 
as man. And the organism uses organs of motion in quite 
another field of perfection than the locomotive. And one of 
the most important principles of railroads, the diminution 
of friction by having the wheels run over rails, can be 
seen repeated a thousand times in nature, where every con- 
tinuous regular movement creates a “slide" on the same prin- 
ciple as the rails. Since one evening when I was in the Desert 
of Arabia, meditating on this question, and noticed the sharp 
hollow channels and polished borders which the daily desert 
winds have carved in the hard limestone of the mountains, there 

Franck Plants as Inventors. I 



by reducing the friction encountered, since that time I have 
observed the application of this law a thousand times. The 
technical form is world-wide; it produces itself from the 
necessity of the activity, itself. 

Swimming, or running on four or six legs, or flying, are 
all much more perfect solutions of the problem of motion 
than the steam or electric motor, which put into gainful 
power only a few percent of the energy derived from the coal. 
Indeed, this technical weakness of these motors, is a general 
cause of complaint. 

111. 17. fl View Near Cairo. 
Showing Wind-Current Paths. 

Arc-lamps are unnecessary for organisms, which have pro- 
duced cold light for every colour. Think of the lightning-bugs, 
glowing fungus, and deep-sea fish. 

The typewriter and the bicycle are lever appliances, really 
very primitive but exceedingly ingenious mechanisms, which 
have their fore-runners in the lever arrangements of the ani- 
mal's running parts. And above the typewriter there stands 
the human hand, which cannot be matched, as you know, by 
mechanical appliances. That is one reason why handwork is 
esteemed in works of art high above articles of mass machine 



But it is of more value in evidence than the citing of 
single examples to remember that bio-technical accomplishments 
are the result of the expressions of need: that the final shaping 
is the direct expression of the want. Only to this end is the 
creative impulse awakened; and only in daily use is the optimal 
form selected. Every invention of plant and animal (includ- 
ing man) must be evaluated and compared from this view- 
point. Therefore, before the biotechnical student imitates an 
arrangement of nature, he must seek to know exactly the need 
which it fulfills. Only when this need is identical with that 
for which he is trying to find a solution, will the solution 
of nature be the optimal form for his purpose, also. 

We can see this most clearly if we compare some inventions 
of man which are also used by organisms but without being 
developed to the end required by man. 

There are, for instance, cooling devices in plants which 
belong to the same class of machines as our refrigerating 

The principle employed in most refrigerating apparatus 
is that of evaporation. The cooling liquid (ammonia, carbonic 
acid, etc.) flows through a system of pipes and absorbs the 
warmth from the surrounding objects through evaporation. 
In the same way in which the water in a steam-engine is 
used over and over again, the freezing liquid is also compressed 
and evaporated over and over again in an endless cycle. The 
temperature is constantly diminished by the evaporation, so 
that it is a simple matter to freeze water and make ice. 

No plant has any need for ice; it eschews this life-destroying 
matter wherever possible. It therefore has no reason to develop 
its cooling apparatus to the extent required by man; if it did, 
by chance, develop it so far, this useless, nay pernicious, ap- 
paratus would be destroyed instantly. In this case, therefore, 
the perfect form is not reached, but only one sufficient to 
produce a slight cooling through the condensation of water- 

The urn-plant (Dischidia Rafflesiana) of India will serve 
as an example. It is a tree-climber, and often exposed to long 
droughts. It therefore produces two kinds of leaves. Besides 
the ordinary leaves it has a variety of strange jug-shaped 
leaves, which are much contracted at the upper opening. A 
many-branched air-root with a very small diameter grows 



in the leaf at this opening. This air-root connects with the 
general water-system of the plant. 

The inside of the nearly closed urn is covered with a 
brown wax-coated skin with innumerable fissures. 

Let us consider the function of the whole arrangement. 
The fissures breathe out a great quantity of water-vapour 

and carbonic acid. Both are 
the common product of 
perspiration and breathing. 
Water-vapour saturated with 
carbonic acid, however, is a 
“cold-mixture" in the sense 
employed in the refrigerating 
industry. They lower the tem- 
perature in the closed urn 
(which is covered with an 
insulator, wax) producing 
considerable condensation. 
The condensed drops of 
moisture roll down the 
smooth wax sides, and form 
a little pool of water on the 
bottom of the jug. The air- 
roots suck in this water, and 
in this way gather a consider- 
able supply for the use of 
the plant out of its own 

We can say that this plant 
waters itself. Indeed it ob- 
tains so much water, that it 
a great deal of 
moisture, and thus continues 
the endless cycle. The whole arrangement would be a rather 
high order of condenser, such as we are accustomed to, except 
for the employment of the “cold-mixture". This makes the urns 
of Dischidia the biotechnical fore-runners of the ice-machine. 

111. 18. The Urn Leaves of the Dischidia, 
a plant refrigerator. (The leaf in foreground Sweats OUt 
is cut through longitudinally.) 

The imperfection of the model is, in this case, a token of 
its perfection. It serves as an illuminating example of what 
the biotechnical student must not lose sight of in his research: 


the purpose for which the plant employs its apparatus deter- 
mines its form. 

There is one chapter in botany before which the biotech- 
nician as well as the botanist stand silent and cannot explain. 
Effects are produced before their eyes to which neither ex- 
perience nor their understanding is equal. They are a perfect 
example of the importance of judging everything in the plant- 
organism exclusively with the consideration of its purpose. 

This chapter is the chapter of the “waterworks" of trees. 
It is referred to thousands of times; expounded in school- 
books; and yet is as dark a secret today as when the first 
naturalists looked with astonishment into the mysterious inter- 
ior of a plant. We have learned since that day, nearly two- 
hundred and fifty years ago, that the inside of every plant, 
whether it is a simple herb, wheat or corn, or a towering tree, 
contains a network of hollow piping. 

What is a pipe? A hollow-staff! The old technical form 
which water builds for itself in rushing on its way through 
gaps and crevasses between firm substances. It is the way 
of least resistance, which the water digs and smooths until 
it obtains the optimal form of a straight, smooth pipe. 

In the plant, the water does not descend, but rises; for 
the water-system must supply the entire plant to the upper- 
most tips of its branches and the highest little leaf with the 
precious moisture. For without it there can be no life. 

Among human needs a similar requirement has arisen only 
since the building of modern cities. The many-storied house 
of the great city is likewise a plant with many cells, in which 
thirsty inhabitants demand water, even in the top-most room. 
And my exposition up to this point would be worthless if 
all of my readers do not at once conclude for themselves that 
the human solution of the problem paralleled that of the 
plant. We and the plant must both employ a system of pipes, 
branching out wherever necessary, and drive the water through 
it by pressure. 

Thus far everything is transparently clear and satisfactory. 

The raising of the water can be attained in various ways. 
We naturally chose the way of least resistance. If there is a 
source of water in the mountains nearby, the water is brought 
from there. For then it will ascend by its own pressure, 
through the system of connecting pipes, to a point as high 



as its source. In flat country, however, we must build an 
artificial mountain out of masonry or other material. That 
is the water-tower or reservoir, in which the surface of the 
water must be higher than the highest faucet in the city. 

But we must raise the water up to the reservoir. That 
we do with pumps. A suction-pump is limited in its action to a 

very small height. We must use 
pressure-pumps to raise water 
more than a hundred or so feet; 
and, naturally, the greater the 
height the more pressure we 
must use. Every additional yard 
of height calls for extra power. 
Many thousands of horse-power, 
are used to keep the supply of 
water for a city running. Who- 
ever has seen the great, tremb- 
ling engines in a pumping- 
station did not depart with the 
impression that here was a per- 
fect application of power. Work 
and effect are here seen in wide 

We find in the great mines, 
where Nature has a dark face 
and everything is enveloped in 
the breath of tragedy, the most 
disconcerting picture of the 
struggle between man's will and 
the iron resistance of matter. 
It seems as if Nature were angry 
at these desecrations of her in- 
ternal peace and quiet, and is 
always threatening to destroy the intruders and their work. 
For protection, they have installed in the interior of their 
mine, many feet below the light of day, huge engines, which 
can be heard chugging and groaning deep in the otherwise 
silent passages. The wheels of the engine spin at lightning- 
speed, always pumping out water, which would rise many 
feet if they stopped pumping only for one day. It pours in 
from all sides from underground sources; some rises in springs 

III. 19. 

Water Pumping arrangements 
in a Mine. 

111. 20. Climbing Palms which pump water over six hundred feet. 



from below, some seeps in through the earthen ceilings, and 
some flows in channel courses. The power of steam raises up 
water from depths of over thirty-five hundred feet, only to 
let it flow' away without any use. 

Is this a biotechnical process? No! In the first place be- 
cause no organism is thirty-five hundred feet high, is the 
evident, but superficial reply. The more thoughful man would 
say that it is not important how many pumping-stations are 
placed one above the other in a mine in order to drive out the 
sea which threatens every mine. The important question is 
if the plant, which often is as tall as a church-steeple, employs 
pressure to raise the water through the pipe-system from its 
roots to its upper branches. And if it does employ pressure, 
where are the engines which produce the power? 

Here we find ourselves in the midst of the incomprehensible, 
facing what is perhaps the most mysterious problem in botany 
and biotechnical science, a problem which has occupied the 
human mind again and again during the last hundred years. 
We have not been able to solve this problem; we are able only 
to describe its working. 

We have been able to tell the story in rather exact formulae, 
so that we no longer are apt to be led astray in our researches. 
We are, I believe, standing before the last closed door. 

I shall enumerate some of the principal acknowledged facts. 
First of all the heights which the plants overcome are con- 
siderably more than you are accustomed to think. An ordinary 
church steeple is anywhere from a hundred and twenty-five 
to two-hundred feet high; the highest in the world, the Munster 
steeple in Ulm is five hundred feet high; the highest building 
in the world, the Woolworth tower, is under six hundred feet 
high. A good-sized white pine tree must force water two- 
hundred and fifty feet high; the giant red-wood trees of 
California are four hundred and fifty feet high; and the 
eucalyptus trees of Australia some thirty or forty feet higher. 
But there are climbing palms which must drive water through 
more than six hundred feet of tortuous twistings above ground. 
When we add the depth of their roots we find that these 
palms must force water some six-hundred feet, which every 
engineer will admit requires an immense amount of power. 
But he has an explanation right at hand; he immediately thinks 
of capillary power. My non-technical readers will bring to 



mind their childish delight in dipping a piece of sugar into 
a cup of coffee and watching the brown fluid rise up in it. 
This action of the coffee is also the result of capillary 

But capillary attraction fails to explain the cases we have 
cited. Capillary attraction can raise water only a limited 
height; and cannot cover the action in plants of over a hundred 
feet in height. 

There is no visible arrangement in plants which gives 
a clue to this mystery. The system of pipes is there, it is 
true; without a break it extends from the lowest root to the 
highest leaf-nerve. Also, it can be stated that there is rari- 
fied air above the rising column of water, just as there is in a 
suction-pump. Hopefully, we immediately jump at a false con- 
clusion: the atmospheric pressure 
forces the water to rise in the 
pipes. But our knowledge of phy- 
sics quickly shatters that solution; 
for we know that the atmospheric 
pressure is equal to a column of 
water only some thirty-four feet 

We have also discovered a 
certain root-pressure existent in 
plants. Country people also know 
about this pressure, and make 
use of it in various ways. The peasant-maid steals away 
into the fresh green May woods, and slashes a criss-cross 
cut in the birch-tree, counting on the root-pressure to force 
out the sap, with which she anoints her face in the expectation 
that it will then become as smooth as velvet for the better 
attraction of her beloved. The cultivator of wine-grapes knows 
that the bleeding branches of his vines are natural in spring, 
for it is merely the rising of the sap, and be thinks no more 
about it. Scientists, however, have measured root-pressure; 
in the fox-glove stalk it is sufficient to raise water a little 
more than twenty one feet; in the trunk of the mulberry-tree, 
on the other hand, the force is not great enough to raise water 
more than a few inches. In no plant was this pressure found 
to be more than enough to lift water more than fifty two feet. 

Moreover we have no knowledge of the cause of root- 



pressure. We have only observed that it is even active in dead 
tree-trunks, and therefore does not depend upon living forces. 
But it is clear that the pipe-system of plants is the fore- 
runner of pressure and suction-pumps, even though it cannot 
be questioned that the plant employs them in a manner which 
we cannot imitate, since we do not understand it. 

Every tree on the road-side, therefore, hides an invention 
which man has not been able to realize; its leaves and branches 
whisper that there are things of which our school knowledge 
does not dream. 

School learning, anyway, is so hide-bound that it often 
passes by unheeded the important points of knowledge which 
it already has. The early history of bioteclmical science contains 
a most instructive and clear illustration of this statement. 

A generation ago the Swiss scientist, Schwendener, discov- 
ered one of the best examples of bioteclmical invention, and 
was convinced that the laws of statics and mechanics are 
completely exemplified in plant-life. Unconcernedly he observed 
that “I beams”, the fundamental element of all steel construction 
work, are also utilized in plant stalks and give firmness to them ; 
he also noticed that the principle of the propeller is realized 
in certain fruits of plants which whirl through the air when they 
are ripe and ready for seeding (think of the maple tree). 

He saw, he measured, was astonished, — but did not 
dare to draw any conclusions. Before his eyes lay nature's 
models of the great new inventions which were then occupying 
everybody's attention. There was the camera obscura of 
the human eye paralleling the photographic camera; the human 
ear and the telephone; the corn-stalk and the bony skeleton 
and the steel structure; flying-seeds and the propeller; and 
an endless list of similar examples. Writers spoke of resemb- 
lances, of analogies, of “organ-projection”, of a “philosophy 
of mechanics”; they indicated, but never dared to follow their 
thinking to its logical conclusion and say: 

“There is only one law. We, natural beings, can only repeat 
the law of protoplasm and the structure of the world. The 
laws of mechanics are exemplified before our eyes in the objects 
of nature”. 

Instead, scientists quoted these parallels as a curiosity, 
and straightway forgot them again. Above all, nobody ever 
drew any practical conclusions from them. Botanists knew 



the facts, but made no use of them. The biologist had nothing 
to give to the mechanic or the engineer. The chemist and the 
architect believed that biological knowledge lay outside of their 
sphere, and did not concern them. 

But similar oversights occur in all branches of life. Events 
take place before our eyes; effect their miracles; draw us into 
the whirl of their activity; but though we perceive them, we 
fail to realize their importance until we discover their under- 
lying law. 

Electricity has played in the atmosphere around man since 
the first human being looked up into the heavens at a threat- 
ening cloud. As’ a flash of lightning it blinded him; as thunder 
it sounded its terrible, threatening report in his ears; it 
demonstrated its power to him by sending giant trees crashing 
to earth with its discharge. And yet for thousands of years 
man remained ignorant of the fact that there is such a phenom- 
enon as electricity, and therefore could not harness its power. 

The rush of water over a falls crumbled the rocks; raging 
breakers ground masses of granite sand; every hammered 
piece of iron became warm; primeval man was still a naked 
cannibal and just had learned the art of rubbing two sticks 
together until smoke ascended, and then light and heat for 
his dark cave. Millions of eyes have observed these events; 
millions of men had their lives made more comfortable by 
them, long before anybody thought of the natural laws which 
governed their occurrence. The law of the conversion of energy 
was discovered after many generations who had their existence 
made possible by virtue of its application had passed away. 
But it was only after its discovery that man could make real 
use of its possibilities to become lord of its energies. 

And this is true also of the biotechnical. Everywhere, 
biotechnica! miracles lie close at hand, in every garden, in 
every meadow, and every field. Every fleeing beetle is such 
a miracle; likewise every fly that buzzes around our head; and 
perhaps the greatest mechanical masterpiece of all is the hand 
which reaches up to swat it. But man remains blind, to it 
until the underlying law is pointed out, the law which is 
written in large letters in woods, and fields, and heavens. 

But shall we not believe that from this hour on, every- 
body will see it, as today every educted man knows of elec- 
tricity and the conservation of energy? 




J have striven to present in as simple words as possible the 
most instructive examples of biotechnical occurrences in plant- 
life I have sought only to make clear the inter-relations 
between our activities and the ring of nature. I have avoided 
fanciful wording and brilliant pictures; for the facts them- 
selves are so fantastic and puzzling that imagination must 
not add one grain nor art one extra daub of colour to the 

These matters are so important that one naturally speaks 
a simple and direct language in referring to them. When the 
world-spirit speaks, it speaks without furbishes. The bio- 
technical chapter is really the chapter about the structure of 
the world. 

We studied it in the structure of plants and in the life of 
unicellular organisms. However we should have found the 
same facts and come to the same conclusions if we had derived 
our examples from animals or from the remarkable internal 
structure of man himself. We have deliberately chosen our 
examples to show that the simplest technical forms are an 
impression or mirror of the activity which formed them: the 
spindle-form in swimming, we have seen, is the impression 
of the force of the movement of water on the swimming body 
to bring about the line of least resistance. Then we saw how 
the activity shapes the tool, how the optimal form for move- 
ment through the water (the screw) shapes the various forms 
of “whips” in spirals. Step by step we followed the same prin- 
ciple through higher forms, and witnessed astonishing and 
novel applications. 

A puzzling abundance of evidence unfolded before us, the 
turbines of the water-drops and the pools in fissures in the 
ground. Instead of admiring the artistic forms of nature, we 
learned to value the complete mechanical forms manifested 
by the activities of life. The great “mystery-book” opened its 
pages to us. And in it were pictured the thousands of cell and 
organ forms, in which we could read the life of the plant. 
Nature whispered in our ears, every form is only the 
frozen momentary picture of a process. 

This formula opened the great gate to the biotechnical 
treasure-house. Everything became intelligible, attractive, a fer- 



tile source of inspiration, in contrast to the mere description 
and listing which makes botany so dry a subject for most 
people, of use only in making small conversation at table about 
the varieties of vegetables and salads, and neglected for prac- 
tical use. 

But our formula reawakens interest in the subject for the 
poetical as well as for the practical. The former hear the 
heart-throb of the world in botany; the latter see visions of 
the golden stream flowing from the utilization of botanic 

Botany and biology become essential fields of study for 
every technical student. Man is shown a new means of profit. 
The materialists will rejoice. Contentedly they can point to 
the beautiful world as grist for their mill; the whole world 
is a machine for them to pattern after. 

But the materialists are wrong. Materialism is not a view- 
point; but it is a method of working. The mechanism of the 
world, on which, in the final analysis, the biotechnical science 
rests, is as before still the riddle of existence. It is hidden 
in our own breast; in our brain-cells which construct a world 
out of their perceptions. It seems mechanical and material 
because our brain conceives in material aspects, and our think- 
ing proceeds according to the laws of mechanics. 

It is certain that the biotechnical will influence the curri- 
culum of our technical schools; perhaps entirely reform it. 
Without doubt it can cause a new period of inventive pros- 
perity in our industry; perhaps give the impetus to countless 
new significant inventions. Industry need only stretch out 
its hand to grasp them. A bright future opens up before our 
eyes. Blessings will flow upon us from the biotechnical, and 
we shall be able to live more comfortably and carelessly; the 
millenium awaits us when we shall have copied the mechanics 
of the whole world of organisms. Only then will the limits 
of the mechanical be reached. Until then we shall have to 
work and explore, to fathom the secrets of the universe. And 
that will take centuries, for the world is large and every eon 
harbours its mystery. 

But the biotechnical has more to offer us than the material. 
Mechanics are important. They are beautiful comforting evidence 
of our sagacity when we are sunk in brooding doubt of our 
intelligence They bring man his wealth and endow him with 



his might; but they are only the servants of life. I, as an “out- 
sider" looking into the magic circle, have had to devote long 
study and much reflection to mechanical science; and have 
therefore been able to form an unbiased opinion of its true 
position in the great assemblage of powers which make up 
the world. 

It is clear that mechanics are not the basic factors of the 
world, they are only one link in the chain of processes compos- 
ing the activity of the universe. 

If you turn back, and, with your present knowledge of the 
laws of technical forms and events, consider our first ap- 
proach from the new point of view to the “monster world", 
you will understand fully what I intended to show. What did 
we mean to convey, then? (Compare page 9). That the world 
is a unity, each part of which influences all the others. In 
other words, every part is also a hindrance and obstacle 
to every other part. Who has not felt that in his own life? 
The existence of other human beings, the material facts of 
the world, all stand as obstacles to be overcome in the ful- 
fillment of one's own destiny. 

It was my thesis that we can conquer not only by the 
destruction of disturbing influences, but by compensation and 
in harmony with the w'orld. Only compensation and harmony 
can be the optimal solutions; for that end the wheels of the 
world turn. 

To attain its aim, life; to overcome obstacles, the organism 
' — plant, animal, man, or unicellular body — shifts and changes. 
It swims, flys, defends itself, and invents a thousand new forms 
and apparatuses. 

If you follow my thought, you will see where I am leading, 
wliat the deepest meaning of the biotechnical tokens. It portends 
a deliverance from many obstacles, a redemption, a striving 
for the solution of our problems in harmony with the forces 
of the world. On this road lies the optimum of existence; relief 
from the pressure of difficulties. 

Mechanics are not the end of life, I repeat. They are, how- 
ever, the necessary tools for the poor struggling human being, 
haunted by a thousand wants, and ever threatened with the 
snuffing out of his existence if he fails to fill them. 

In acquiring the wherewithal to satisfy them, man can do 
no better than follow the ways discovered by nature. For 



millions of years, these forms have been perfecting themselves 
in the workshop of reality. Buffeted by hostile winds, threatened 
by countless enemies; in the turmoil of existence only those 
forms which satisfied most perfectly the object of their aim 
surrived. The others perished by the wayside. 

That is why the biotechnical, wherever it parallels man’s 
purposes, is an object lesson of the perfection of the in- 
strument which he must construct. 


That the science which I have endeavoured to expound in 
this little book is but in its embryonic stage, none will 
more readily admit than I. Therefore, I have tried only to 
point out its most significant facts; to draw the reader's 
attention to the important role which it must play in our civili- 

If from these few citations and commentaries the reader 
has gained sufficient interest to continue his investigations 
of the subject, I shall consider that my work has been